"Five Years On" No. 5
Translator's Afterword to
Miyagi Rekishi Shiryou Network in 2016
The amount of historical materials and documents that Miyagi Shiryou Network has managed to save from the ravages of tsunami inundation and earthquake damage is overwhelming, and yet even that is only a small part of what has been lost. But now the post-disaster outpouring of volunteers, resources and funding has gone, the reality is that we are left with a huge body of material which we do not really know where it will end up for safe-keeping for posterity.
When Daisuke first participated in the founding of our organisation in 2003 he was the youngest member. Thirteen years later today, he is still the youngest member. Many of the other founding members, like myself, are facing retirement and many of us are no longer up to the physical labour that many salvage operations entail. On a very personal basis, I have developed a strong skin and lung reaction to the dust that has accumulated on old documents and cannot handle them myself, even with protective clothing and an industrial quality face mask, and to add further trouble, I have lost so much eyesight that I no longer drive a car to visit the disaster areas on my own. This lack of new blood in Miyagi Shiryou Network is partly a result of the rapid aging of Japanese society, a problem that is eating away the heart of the disaster areas as they try to recover from the tsunami as much as it is the intakes of university students. It is also and more directly a result of the world-wide attack on the value of the Humanities in higher education. The graduate course in Japanese history at Tohoku University, which is our most natural 'recruiting ground' has hardly any students going on beyond a Master's degree, and 30 years from now, there will be a serious shortage of people who have had any specialist training in the field, and no-one to provide the core of specialist knowledge necessary to carry on the work we have started.
The areas affected by the tsunami within Miyagi Prefecture have probably been all cleaned up. I say probably because I cannot get to the furthermost parts anymore by myself. Today, the coastline mostly has an enormous seawall skirting the coastline to hold off the next mega-tsunami. Such a tsunami is not likely to come for another 200 years at the shortest, and somewhere between 400 to 1,000 years is a more likely count. One can only hope that these massive edifices are still able to perform their proper function when the need arises. In the meantime, the time and money spend of these huge engineering feats has meant that in the towns nestled along the fjords of the Sanriku Coast, people still have no land on which to rebuild their homes and are starting to settle down in inland towns, or more out of the area altogether. Astronomic amounts of money have been spent on these new 'Great Walls of China (sic)' , but the townships that they are meant to protect are evaporating due to the time they take, and a lack of attention to the human needs of the people who are presumed to live there.
However, this is why the kind of work that Miyagi Shiryou Network does in trying to preserve the basis for community memory and identity is so important. Huge seawalls 'look' like real measures to counter tsunami damage, but by the time they and the other huge earthworks being carried out to make the coast 'safe' are finished, about half of the townships and hamlets that they are meant to protect will have reached the point of no return in terms of population depletion. One task which Daisuke has not touched upon is the need for historians like us to cooperate with other academic disciplines to demonstrate with the kind of 'facts and figures' that engineers and their ilk can understand as demonstrating the efficacy of the work that we do in rebuilding the humans bonds that are the real basis for maintaining functioning communities. We need to redirect the concept of disaster preparedness from chasing the chimera of perfect disaster prevention through engineering, to strengthening the underlying human bonds of society to make them resilient not only to natural disaster, but also to the socio-economic rot which is destroying this region more surely than anything that Mother Nature can throw at us.